Young sailors aiming for top need dedication and persistence

A 38 strong squad from NSW’s Youth Sailing Team (YST) took a fair slice of the podium places at the Yachting NSW Youth Championships that wrapped up on Monday October 6, 2014, on Botany Bay south of Sydney’s CBD.

The youngest member of the YST, 11 year-old Optimist sailor Tom Green from Woollhara Sailing Club already has four years’ know-how in the class. Being in grade 6 at Sydney Grammar Edgecliff affords him more time than the senior YST squad members but it’s still hectic balancing school work plus coach Rob Brewer’s rigorous training timetable that swallows up the entire weekend and one weekday afternoon.

Green and his brother Oscar, who is nine and raced in the Opti Intermediate fleet over the October long weekend, have been on boats since birth. Like many of sailing’s next generation caught up in the wake of Australia’s world-beating results at the last London Olympic Games, Green’s heroes include gold medallists Tom Slingsby and Matt Belcher.

Elbow room at the top of the 51 strong Opti open fleet wasn’t easy to find out on the bay, especially with national champion and fellow YST member Otto Henry a late entry at the youth championship when the New Zealand regatta he was competing at last week blew out in 40 knot winds.

“We are all competitors but we are good mates at the end of the day,” assures Tom. He finished up sixth overall with his Opti called The Green Machine. Henry’s phenomenal results on Botany Bay of seven wins, and elsewhere, point to a boy wonder who could easily represent his country one day at the sport’s peak.

Twins Jess and Tom Grimes sailing for Belmont 16’ Sailing Club on Lake Macquarie’s foreshore raced the 29er Swagamuffin, a play on Syd Fischer’s famous series of ocean-going boats called Ragamuffin, into third overall. The son and daughter of well-known offshore yachtsman Richard Grimes paired up four years ago and both made the YST this season, Jess for the first time.

“We complement each other and being family makes it easy to coordinate training sessions,” says Tom, the chatty one. Jess helms and Tom’s heavier build is used out on the wire, to level the 29er out. A typical timetable for the year 11 Merewether High students is two Lake training sessions a week and two out of Sydney’s Middle Harbour Yacht Club on the weekend. Then add on four gym sessions, time with a professional strength and conditioning coach and schoolwork.

If a sponsor signs up, the brother and sister combo can enter the Pathways program to complete their HSC. Spreading out their final year of school would give them time to travel and contest world championships and generally “hit it a lot harder without the pressure of full time study,” Tom says.

On the 29er course the pair stood out on Botany Bay with their bright yellow helmets, a safety feature they happily adopted when 29er sailor Tess Lloyd suffered a skull fracture in a sailing accident in 2012. “We bonk heads a lot when we tack but after what happened to Tess we are happy to have the protection,” said Jess at the host club, Georges River 16’ Sailing Club.

Gosford’s Kurt Hansen is the current 29er world champion and unsurprisingly he dominated the skiff class at the YNSW Youth Championships to be declared state 29er champion.

The gifted 17 year-old has been with the YST program from the outset, through Sabots, Flying 11s, 420s and now 29ers. In Kingston, Canada early this year he and Harry Moreton combined brilliantly to snare the world crown. At the youth championships he and new crew Jim Colley, after Moreton outgrew the one design class, raced their 29er called Objective for the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club and Gosford Sailing Club. They finished with a perfect scorecard.

On the YST Hansen had this to say, “It’s a big part of my life. It’s linked me with the sport’s higher level people and all the coaching and experience within the squad has been awesome. It definitely created the pathway to my world championship win.”

Reaching the pinnacle world championship level and training with the YST, which means travelling to Sydney and multiple times each week, keeps the Gosford High student on the go. When party invites are extended Hansen’s hometown mates are used to the standard “I’m going sailing” response. “I guess it keeps me out of trouble,” he mused.

Yachting NSW development manager Andrew Cribb is keen to talk up the program, “The YST underpins the state’s sailing performance program and is crucial for developing youth sailors for state, national and youth world titles.”

Program information is available here. Applications for the 2015/16 YST will be announced in December.

The state youth championship is run annually under the auspices of Yachting NSW, a not for profit organisation responsible for the administration, promotion and advancement of the sport of sailing at all levels throughout NSW. For the 2014 edition Gill and Nautilus Marine signed on as event sponsors and Roads and Maritime Services extended considerable support.


– Lisa Ratcliff, Event Media

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